"Nothing can turn back the clock. It breaks mum at times. Those are the worst times. The best? It's made us very close."
Beaverbrooks House – the house that BBC DIY SOS rebuilt for Blackpool Carers Centre in 2016 - has a lived in, loved look today. It’s no longer quite as picture perfect as it was when Nick Knowles, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and the TV crews, and legion of volunteers, moved out.
The Albanian cook book left artfully propped up on an impressive slab of a unit in the state-of-the-art kitchen is now tucked away in a corner with other impressively glossy publications. They have all been used – but the healthy eating for kids cook books and the quick fix nutritious meals to feed from two or several hundred tend to be better used.
And frankly there’s a lot of expertise to call upon here, including from volunteer carer and cared for ranks, in what’s become Rocco’s Pantry, open to the public as well as carers, and rated five in the score on the door. Health and training certificates line the walls.
John Joyce, the Ice-Cold Chef, contributes his own recipes to the charity’s magazine the Caring Times. John’s a carer himself and reckons a change of diet – rather than dieting, per se – has made a huge difference to not only his quality of life but his wife Bev, who has multiple sclerosis. He’s already helped young carers learn how to cook.
You should see this place when the summer fair is on, or the lantern festival or…. It’s a far cry from the old cramped but loved headquarters on a semi-industrial estate, the base of the charity until demand and ambition outpaced it.
Back then – and it’s only three years ago – carers met in community centres, activities timed with military precision, on the clock as other groups, from other charities, other areas of interest, waited to come in.
Beaverbrooks House, effectively gifted to the charity by Beaverbrooks Charitable Trust, a fact often obscured by what many considered the bigger national story, that Big Build for Children in Need, has given the charity space to grow. More importantly, as young carers lead worker Kerry Dalton, puts it: “It gives young carers the freedom to be themselves.”
One of the changes on site at Beaverbrooks House is that Llewelyn Bowen’s “boutique” – which displayed his flamboyant shirts for some time – is now a counselling room.
It’s needed. Two young carers are having one-to-ones in other counselling rooms at the Newton Drive Blackpool base of the charity when we drop by. A third is waiting, tearful, a specialist worker in tow, for our room, the Room Formerly Known as Laurence’s Boutique, to become available.
That’s the room I’m in as a young carer tells me her happiness has gone from five out of 10 to 11 out of 10 in the two months she’s been here. That’s some result.
It’s only natural to care for loved ones and, like most carers, young carers see it as an extension, expression of their love for someone. But at times the pressures can be seen in that headlong dash for the counselling rooms here – and in the fact that the theme of Young Carers Awareness Day (Thursday Jan 31) is mental health.
The national Carers Trust social media gurus have dubbed it the #careformetoo campaign, a hashtag they hope will go viral. One young Blackpool carer has already been interviewed by Radio Five.
If ever a theme should resonate in Blackpool it’s this one. There is no health without mental health. The town tops so many leagues for poor health you risk nosebleeds just looking at the statistics.
This place, Beaverbrooks House, is a “safe haven”, as one young carer 'S' puts it. S, 15 has written a poem about caring, in fact in tribute to her own mother, for whom she cares “My hero,” she adds. She will present the poem at the charity’s YCAD event at Beaverbrooks House – for more than 30 professionals who want to know more about the charity and learn more about young carers and the respite and support provided here.
S's mum had enough to put up with type one diabetes – but when a medical procedure went “extremely wrong” it ruined her health and her quality of life. She spent two months in hospital, faced two further operations, and lives with the consequences.
Nothing can turn back the clock. “She’s not been the same since. It breaks her at times,” says S. “Those are the worst times. The best? It’s made us very close. I’m the youngest so I tend to spend the most time with mum.”
S draws on support from her cousin T, 13, who attends the same school, and looks after his nan, with whom he lives, as his mum dad and siblings live in Ireland. His nan has osteoporosis and arthritis “and a lot of old people’s stuff”, as he puts it…
He ensures she has everything to hand before he goes to school in the morning – making up a bed on the couch, a flask of tea ready, coffee table pushed closer. “I make her dinner in the afternoon. It’s normal. I don’t see myself as a carer. Nan looked after me, I look after her.”
He’s written a song for Young Carers Awareness Day and breaks into an impromptu performance – if only to halt the ‘interview’ in its tracks. It’s a great diversion. He’s a fine singer. And the cousins are their own support network.
The words of the first young carers to pass through the doors of the new look Blackpool Carers Centre, when it relocated to Beaverbrooks House, help too.
The Carers Word Wall remains arguably Llewelyn-Bowen’s finest concept here – having drawn on carers’ comments to create the most vibrant wallpaper ever.
Like young carers, the wall is hidden in plain sight, tucked away in a snug quiet area, now with a large screen playing video games to young carers sprawled on the floor.
The wall still speaks volumes. So do the mental health notes, strewn like washing on a line, along other walls, terse statements on how young carers feel and the help available.
“Alone.” “Feeling down.” “Irreplaceable.” “Peer pressure.” “#Speakup.” “Tell someone.” “Learn something new can make you more confident.
And: “Talk to your mates, spend time with your family, good relationships build better mental health.”
“It helps,” says another young carer, nine when she first started helping care for her little brother. “You sometimes think is it just me? This tells you it isn’t.”
Kerry Dalton has worked for Blackpool Carers Centre for four years and led the Young Carers Team for the last 12 months.
She explains: “The purpose of Young Carers Awareness Day is to raise public awareness of the challenges faced by young people because of their caring role, and to campaign for greater support for young carers and their needs.
There is a real need for professionals and parents to ensure that the young people within our society are emotionally resilient to the trials that life brings.
Young Carers can suffer with poorer health and wellbeing, often missing out on education, training and peer support systems, all of which can have a negative impact on a young person’s confidence.
Being a young carer, itself can be challenging for a young person given the added pressures of their caring role, it can sometimes become overwhelming. The young carers team are here to guide and support young carers to deal with these feelings and emotions as well as helping to ensure that they are not taking on inappropriate levels of care.
Some of the complexities that these young people face daily can be challenging. As a team we have become more aware that there has been an increase in the number of young people that self-harm, are referred to counselling/therapy and express suicidal thoughts.
This year Young Carers Awareness Day, which takes place on the 31st January focuses on Mental Health.
Within the Young Carers Team here at Blackpool Carers Centre we have several different projects all of which provide whole family support.
This year our Young Carers Awareness day event will give the opportunity for local professionals to get to know these wonderful young people, by listening to poems that have been written by young carers, engaging in respite sessions and getting to know what wonderful work we do here at Blackpool Carers Centre.
For me, it is the best job in the world.”
· One in five secondary school children (800k across England based on last year’s ‘count’ by the BBC and the University of Nottingham) have a caring role – and that role may well have started long before, in primary school.
· Their average age is 13 but one in 10 are under 10.
· Ten per cent of young carers take on practical tasks, or physical care, emotional support, personal carer, manage the budget, dispense medication, help someone communicate – or any or all of these tasks.
· One in 10 provide a high level of care and 80 per cent may not be receiving the support they need. A Carers Trust survey found that almost half of those kids under 10 quizzed about their role said they got up during the night to care.
· Research by the national Carers Trust (of which Blackpool Carers Centre is a network member) and Action for Children found that one in five young carers had never been on a summer holiday with their family.